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I'm considering a career change after having worked as a financial software developer in London over the past 8 years.

I'd quite like to move to Silicon Valley but I'm not clear on the practicalities.

1) Given the visa requirements, am I limited to joining a large software firm such as Google? Or are startups or self employment open to me?

2) Does the visa requirement put me at a disadvantage compared to local hires?

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closed as off topic by Morons, Yannis Rizos Feb 19 '12 at 20:43

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Yeah you will be limited to companies that can afford expensive sponsorship. Yes you are at a disadvantage to equally skilled natives. –  Rig Feb 19 '12 at 20:19
Tip: Make sure you spell the name of the company right when you are going to apply for a job :-) –  The Nail Feb 19 '12 at 20:20
Hi! Welcome to Programmers.SE. Questions here are usually about Software Development, as defined in the FAQ. –  Dynamic Feb 19 '12 at 20:25
You worked in the city as a programmer for 8 years and you couldn't work out to check the US embassy website? That explains a lot! –  Martin Beckett Feb 19 '12 at 20:27

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is absolutely possible for you to move to the US; you need an H1B (Persons in Specialty Occupation) visa, or some equivalent working visa to be able to do so. The US department of state has a good summary of how you might qualify online.

Your options are absolutely not limited to just large companies; I came to the US and joined a ~ 20 person startup. You just need a company willing to do the paperwork to get the visa approved, and the ability to get appropriate wavers for hiring foreign workers rather than local workers. For IT, that is reasonably simple - though a larger company can obviously better afford the costs.

You might find the L (Intracompany Transferees) visa another useful path; if you work for someone who has a US office, you can transfer through them without the same degree of competition as the H1B.

Self employment, without a sponsor, is non-trivial, but it is possible. The simplest would be the E5 (Immigrant Investors) visa. If you have at least US $500,000 to invest in creating work in the US, you can start to consider self-employment. You will be expected to have proof that you can support yourself fully outside that investment, however.

Finally, does the visa requirement put you at a disadvantage? Absolutely.

You can expect to pay between US $10K and $20K, if you move alone without significant furniture, in direct moving costs; unless you want to foot that entirely alone you are asking a non-trivial investment from the company. Hardly extortionate, of course, and no more than a recruitment agency might get paid, but still more than a local.

You are also asking them to foot what probably amounts to the same sort of figure in legal costs, paperwork costs, staff time dealing with paperwork, and other expenses in getting you the visa.

Finally, unless you can become a permanent resident you are asking them to face ongoing costs relating to visa renewal - at least, time for you to renew, and probably more legal and paperwork costs on top of that.

Oh, and you are likely to either start remotely, or start with several months more delay than local workers would; that never helps. (Plus another $10K or so to fly you over for an interview, if they want to do that.)

All that covers just the hard practical side, though, and you have to remember that some employers will assume that, for example, a foreign worker is going to go home eventually (and forget that locals will change jobs), so you will face some potential additional biases on that front.

Don't be discouraged, though: you absolutely can do it, and it can be awesome. (You might also consider New York, and the rest of the east coast, since there is a lot more finance employment over there - and the thing that most helps is having skills that locals don't.)

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Thanks for the detailed advice. An intracompany relocation to New York on an L visa would certainly be easiest. Is the main obstacle to an H1B likely to be the relocation cost? Monetary expense isn't so much of an issue (and the E5 is tempting :) ). I understand that, in principle, I'm competing against other developers (local and foreign) with the same skill set. But from reading the web I get the impression this condition is more of a technicality. –  Robin Mostin Feb 19 '12 at 21:15
No, your most likely limit on the H1B is that there are ~ 11,000 of them for skilled workers, and those are subdivided by region, so you might have a lot of competition. The legal competition with local workers is pretty light in IT - not in all fields - so, yeah, mostly only the "social" challenges. –  Daniel Pittman Feb 19 '12 at 21:17
I applied to a few US companies in the hope that they'd bite and stump up for an H1B. Zero interest. When I moved over to the US on a green card, a few months later, I applied to three jobs, got three interviews and then got three job offers. Even if you can get to the US you'll find that pretty much any significant purchase - a car, renting a house, etc - is incredibly difficult as you'll have no US credit history. Your UK history is irrelevant over here. I'm enjoying it so far though! Try Denver if you like the outdoors: gorgeous and they're desperate for enterprise devs here. –  Ant Feb 20 '12 at 3:18
Actually, your most likely problem with H1B visas is that the major Indian outsourcing firms typically gobble up all the openings for them in the first few days they're available, after which there are none until the next year's feeding frenzy. –  Ross Patterson Feb 20 '12 at 16:21

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